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How to Diagnose Autism

If you’re a parent or guardian of a child, you always strive to do what’s best for them. You need to understand how to best support them as they grow up. A medical test can diagnose some disorders and help direct parents in treatment. 

However, when you ask how to diagnose autism, you’re not given a definitive test. This is daunting for some parents seeking answers and guidance on caring for their children. Read on to learn how an autism diagnosis works and what you can do to support your child.

Can You Diagnose Autism Without a Doctor?

An official medical diagnosis comes from a medical professional. While a parent can see signs of autism in their child, they can’t “officially” diagnose them with autism without the assistance of a medical professional, specifically a medical doctor or psychologist. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all test you can give your child to “diagnose” autism. This is why it’s critical to work with your child’s doctor to determine an official diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Signs to Look for in Diagnosing Autism

While you may not be able to officially diagnose your child with autism, you can do developmental monitoring at home for autism by looking for the following:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Not responding when spoken to, especially when using calling their name
  • Limited display of language
  • Sensitivity to movement, lights, sounds, or smell
  • Having little interest in other children or adults
  • Body spinning or rocking
  • Limited or a lack of facial expressions
  • Getting upset by minor changes in routine
  • Unusual or repetitive behaviors

Make sure to take notes about your child’s behaviors. Take video if possible. Keep thorough records of things you notice with your child’s behavior to help your child’s doctor understand what you’re seeing and how often you’re observing it.

Related reading:
Recognizing signs of autism in girls
Recognizing signs of autism in boys

How is Autism Diagnosed?

Developmental Screenings for Autism

As parents learn how to diagnose autism, they learn about the two steps doctors take to come to their diagnosis. The first step is conducting developmental screening of where a child stands on the development timeline.

During this screening, doctors may interact with the child to see how they respond, move, play, and behave. They might also ask parents questions regarding how the child moves, plays, and communicates at home. This will help them determine if the child is behind in development based on age.

Every child should visit their doctor for regular checkups to determine if their health and development are on the proper timeline. Ages for these appointments tend to be:

  • Nine months
  • 18 months
  • 24 to 30 months

During the 18-months and 24-month visits, children tend to be screened for ASD. More appointments might be necessary if the doctor believes the child is behind in development.

Comprehensive Evaluation for Autism

The second step in diagnosing autism involves a comprehensive evaluation. This step is more in-depth and includes interviews with parents or guardians and a closer look at the child’s behavior and possible testing. This can include:

  • Screenings for vision and hearing
  • Neurological testing
  • Genetic testing

By gathering this information, doctors can make a proper diagnosis or refer parents to other specialists or professionals.

Once parents receive a diagnosis, they can learn more about autism spectrum disorder and best support their child through specialized programs.

Screening Tools for Autism

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for autism diagnosis screening is a diagnostic tool that is used to identify the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. The DSM-5, published in 2013, has eliminated the term Asperger syndrome and instead uses the term “autism spectrum disorder” to refer to all diagnoses on the autism spectrum.

In addition to the DSM-5’s screening guidelines, there are several screening tools and comprehensive evaluations, including:

  • Ages and Stages Questionnaires (ASQ)
  • Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI-R)
  • Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS)
  • Autism Spectrum Rating Scales (ASRS)
  • Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS)
  • Gilliam Autism Rating Scale
  • Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status (PEDS)
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorders Screening Test (Stage 3)
  • Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers and Young Children (STAT)
  • Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ)

Depending on your doctor, they may use some of the tools above and/or a combination to help understand your child’s behavior and whether they fit an autism diagnosis. 

Who Can Make an Autism Diagnosis?

Typically, a child’s primary care physician (PCP) can refer you to a specialist to get an autism diagnosis. A developmental pediatrician, psychologist, neurologist, or psychiatrist are the most common medical professionals making an official ASD diagnosis. If your child’s doctor doesn’t think it’s necessary to get a specialist involved, this is something as a parent you can schedule on your own.

How to Prepare for Your Child’s Autism Diagnosis Appointment

Before heading to your child’s diagnosis appointment, we recommend preparing with the following checklist:

  • List of all medications your child takes, including anything over the counter.
  • Any vaccinations your child has had or is due for.
  • Any pictures, videos, or written documentation of observed behaviors.
  • Records of development milestones, whether you’ve kept a running list or bring something from your child’s doctor- if you have them.
  • Keep a list of questions on hand to ask the doctor. Bring a notebook and pen to write notes, follow-up questions, and anything else that’ll be helpful to remember.

Bringing a family member or friend with you is helpful for note-taking so that you can focus on the conversation.

Diagnosis Options for Autism

If you’re unsure about diagnosing autism or have care questions, it’s time to turn to Ascend Autism. We offer effective and compassionate programs to help and support children and their parents. To learn more about our services, contact Ascend Autism today by calling 877.323.8668. The team at our autism treatment center is ready to help!


Helping Children And Families Succeed!

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